So the Police Failed? Let’s Send in the Army

Police in Issawiya

Tal Hassin and Aviv Tatarsky

Day after day, night after night, and for over six months already, Riot Police and Border Police Forces have invaded the neighborhood of Issawiya under the zealous command of Jerusalem District Police Chief Doron Yedid. They harass youth, break into apartments, burst into educational institutions, close stores, hand out fines, and indiscriminately arrest residents, many of whom are minors. Approximately 600 arrests have been carried out in the neighborhood since June of 2019, and hardly any have led to indictments. This is what false arrests look like.

The purpose for this policy of strong-arm policing, which has been tried unsuccessfully in the past, is unclear. Various investigations indicate that, in opposition to police allegations, in the months preceding this policy’s implementation, there were no documented incidents of exceptional cases of stones or Molotov cocktails thrown from inside the neighborhood. However, even if such incidents did occur, the judicial process must engage those who committed them, rather than terrorizing and disrupting the lives of all the neighborhood’s residents.

The duration of police activity, the systematic reinforcement of authorities, and the increase in pressure placed on residents indicates (once again) the failure of this method, which solely intensifies the cycle of animosity. The initiation of friction, suffocating in its intensity, due to police presence among an already oversensitive population, is effectively igniting more flames. The police’s policy in Issawiya is so exceptional that officers stationed in the neighborhood have been documented complaining – “it’s actually just about antagonizing them for no reason,” they say.

Instead of taking a step back to consider the pros and cons of this policy of collective punishment and to rein in the District Police Chief and his subordinates, the battlefield is now being expanded and new means of suppression are being implemented: administrative detention orders. These orders are a stale remnants of the British Mandate period, which served as a tool to eliminate Jewish and Palestinian resistance to the British occupier, and that found their place in Israeli law through the Defense (Emergency) Regulations from 1945, which have been thoroughly criticized for their use in a democratic state. These orders, which the army uses widely throughout the West Bank, enable the imposition of a wide range of restrictions on individuals – including prolonged arrest and incarceration, restricted movement, removal from one’s place of residence – all without issuing an indictment and on the basis of confidential evidence and undisclosed information, concealed from the accused and his or her lawyer. In other words, these orders are the polar opposite of the constitutional right to due process.

Nine residents of Issawiya have already received an administrative nighttime curfew order (Hebrew), signed by the Central Command. The advance notice of the intended enforcement exposes the draconian nature of administrative orders. One of them was issued as follows: “You are a popular terror activist in the neighborhood where you live. In this context, you are known to be involved in riots and throwing Molotov cocktails.”

What is a “popular terror activist?” And if it’s “known” that this person is involved in riots and throwing Molotov cocktails, why has no indictment been issued against him? The answer is clear. There is insufficient evidence linking these individuals to the attributed actions, and the existing evidence would not pass the judicial test. Thus administrative detention orders conveniently come in to play to bypass criminal investigation proceedings, rife with severe human rights violations. What will the next step be, once it’s clear that the administrative orders are also ineffective? Hundreds of warrants, night curfew for the entire village, perhaps armored personnel carriers patrolling the alleyways?

Approximately 20,000 people live in Issawiya. The vast majority of them have not lifted a single stone in their lives. Yet the expectation that armed regime forces may march through a Palestinian neighborhood after many months of abuse and be received with salutes is absurd, as is the ongoing attempt to suppress the residents. Six months of a failed, short-sighted policy should have set off all the alerts long ago. The time has come for the civil authorities – the Jerusalem municipality, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, and the welfare bodies – to rein in police rampage in Issawiya. So what if they’re Palestinians?

Tal Hassin is an ACRI attorney, Aviv Tatarsky is a researcher with Ir Amim.

Published in Haaretz on 2.1.2020